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Classroom vote counts

Parties in next week's elections are campaigning on education issues, not Iraq. Michael Shaw reports

Voters in next week's local elections are more likely to be swayed by their views on the Iraq war than the state of schools.

But opposition parties believe that campaigning on education issues could help them wrest control of several cities from Labour on Thursday.

The Liberal Democrats hope to win Newcastle, which has been Labour-controlled for more than 30 years, and to regain Sheffield, which they lost to Labour in 2002. If elected in Newcastle, the Lib Dems have pledged they will set up an "education attainment commission" to tackle the city's poor results in exam league tables.

The independent commission would cost around pound;160,000 and would spend a year hearing evidence from teachers and experts before producing a report.

Nick Cott, Newcastle Lib Dem spokesman, said that parents were angry that the local authority ranked 130th out of 150 in exam league tables and that it performed significantly worse than other cities in similar circumstances. "More people have talked about local services than they have about Iraq," he said. "Educational performance is a major issue for families here and we will make improving it a top priority."

Newcastle's Labour supporters say the proposed commission would be a waste of money because the city council is carrying out a review of education.

Labour councillors say parents have been impressed by extra spending on the city's schools and the council's pound;200 million plans to refurbish all secondaries.

The Labour council in Sheffield, where several secondaries have been rebuilt under a private finance initiative, is also confident. Angela Smith, Labour councillor with responsibility for education, said the party felt it could win votes for its work with schools.

But the Lib Dems' attack on Labour's education policies includes criticism of the education authority's reliance on PFI. Paul Scriven, Sheffield Lib Dem party spokesman, said that repayments on the school buildings would be "a time-bomb for the city's education service".

The Conservatives are confident of gaining Coventry and believe Birmingham will be split between the three main parties, with Labour losing overall control.

The Tories say that if the Birmingham council is hung they will be able to halt plans to merge all of the city's infant and junior schools, a policy that has angered many parents and teachers.

Early-years education and school funding will be the key issues being debated by political parties in Wales. Between 30 and 80 seats are up for election in each of the 22 local authorities. Eight of these are controlled by Labour, which has pledged to provide free nursery places for three-year-olds. Plaid Cymru, which controls three councils, has promised to prioritise early-years education and says it will address funding inequalities between Welsh and English schools. The Lib Dems and Tories, who do not control any councils, have promised to protect small, rural schools from closure.

Dozens of teachers will be standing as candidates in the local and the European elections, several for the smaller fringe parties.

At least one teacher is standing for the far-right British National Party, three for the anti-war party Respect, while the Green Party says that at least 28 of its candidates work in schools or colleges.

The UK Independence Party, which wants Britain to withdraw from the European Union, has five candidates from education backgrounds. These include Derek Clark, a former teacher who was a member of the committee which developed GCSEs. He will be standing in the European elections in the East Midlands with Robert Kilroy Silk, the former chatshow host.

Voting in Wales

All seats will be contested in Blaenau Gwent; Bridgend; Caerphilly; Cardiff; Carmarthenshire; Ceredigion; Conwy; Denbighshire; Flintshire; Gwynedd; Merthyr Tydfil; Monmouthshire; Neath Port Talbot; Rhondda Cynon Taff; Swansea; Torfaen; Vale of Glamorgan; Wrexham

Voting in England

All seats will be contested in: Barnsley; Birmingham; Blackburn with Darwen; Bolton; Bradford; Bury; Calderdale; Coventry; Doncaster; Dudley ; Halton; Hartlepool; Kirklees; Knowsley; Leeds; Liverpool; Manchester; Newcastle-upon-Tyne; North Tyneside; Oldham; Peterborough; Reading; Rochdale; Rotherham; Sandwell; Sefton; Sheffield; Slough; Solihull; South Tyneside; St Helens; Stockport; Sunderland; Tameside; Thurrock; Trafford; Wakefield; Walsall; Warrington; Wigan; Wirral; Wokingham; Wolverhampton. A third of council seats will be contested in: Derby; Kingston-upon-Hull; Milton Keynes; North East Lincolnshire; Plymouth; Portsmouth; Southampton; Southend-on-Sea; Stoke-on-Trent; Swindon

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